Image © Rafe Martin, cover art by Matt Mahurin.
One thing storytelling is about is “What happened next?” A good story will leave you with that question, and sometimes you’ll continue thinking about the characters and what might become of them for a long time. Author Rafe Martin has taken that idea to great lengths in this novel, and very effectively. It’s based on the Brothers Grimm story, “The Six Swans,” in which six brothers are turned into swans by a witch, leaving one sister with the very difficult and years-long task of saving them. She succeeds, or almost. The youngest brother does not change completely back to human, he retains one swan’s wing. From this idea, Martin creates the world of Prince Ardwin, known derogatively as Birdwing. His wing is a great trial to him at times, but also a unique blessing, as it helps him remember the time when he could fly, and still allows him to understand and talk to animals. Ardwin’s life is often difficult, and many mock and scorn him, but he perseveres, learning to fight with bow and arrow, sword and spear, and making friends among those in the castle where he lives with his father.
Then emissaries arrive from a warlike neighboring king with a proposal and a gift. The proposal is to ally the two kingdoms through the marriage of Ardwin to their princess, and the gift is a mechanical golden arm. If the king were to accept this offer, Ardwin’s wing must be cut off. If the King refuses, war is likely. Horrified at the idea, Ardwin runs away with two friends, and later continues on his own. His first goal is the far northern lake where he and his brothers spent their summers when they were swans, and Ardwin has a very tough road there. What happens when he arrives is sad rather than comforting, and Ardwin is soon going south again, where he’s attacked by a snow lion, only the beginning of many more adventures. And, while the book at first seems a somewhat open-ended travel adventure, characters and plot threads weave together into a very satisfying story arc and resolution.
I thought this book was excellent in every way. It kept surprising me, the characters were terrific, and the creative imagination of the author in bringing this world to life is impressive. Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more books by Rafe Martin.